Landmark Legislation Refocuses Adoption on Best Interests of the Child

New adoption legislation addresses critical elements of a child’s life that were previously overlooked. The new legislation now prioritises a child’s sense of wellbeing, stability of a child’s physical and emotional living conditions and their relationship with existing carers. The new legislation also creates a clear pathway for the adoption of people over the age of 18. 

Australia, 27 August 2020: This week the ACT Government have changed the definition of what is in the ‘best interest of the child’ and the ‘adoption of a person 18 years old or older’. These changes will have a significant impact on the lives of children in out-of-home care and carers across the territory. 

This change explicitly targets what is in the best interests of the child. Adopt Change welcomes this approach, particularly the inclusion of creating a sense of belonging, the recognised need for continuity in a child’s life and the ability to provide stable emotional and physical living conditions. 

The changes also require the courts to consider abuse, physical or psychological harm or family violence in deciding what is in the best interest of the child, a matter previously not considered in the legislation. 

CEO of Adopt Change, Renee Carter said, “Decisions centred on the needs of the child that provide permanency, safety and stability are a strong framework for creating positive outcomes for children. This is a welcomed change and a critical measure in supporting child protection.” 

“We see this legislation as a turning point in the ACT, an important step that will help children have greater certainty in how they will spend their childhood.” Said Carter. 

A child’s support network will also form part of the consideration set in making decisions about their welfare. Carers more specifically, have been spelled out in the legislation for the first time as having a meaningful relationship and one that needs to be taken into consideration. 

Adopt Change has worked with legislators and government for many years to focus on what is in the best interest of the child and to take into consideration the vital role of carers in support of children in need. This change ensures that carers will be considered as part of a child’s ongoing support network. 

Chauntell McNamara has adopted children from care and said, “This is a strong step forward in making decisions in the best interest of the child. I was a carer for 8 years before we were able to adopt. To provide vital care, love and affection to our child for such a long time and then not to even be considered in any decision by the courts was heartbreaking. As least now the courts will have a full view of what’s best for the child.” 

The amendment also offers children the option to be adopted by carers when they are adults or are over the age of 18. This change will give unity to families who have lived, loved and cared for one another in some cases for over a decade, creating a long overdue sense of belonging for adoptees. 

Brad Murphy, Adopt Change Ambassador, Adoptee and former AFL footballer said, ”Having experienced trauma in my early years, then growing up in a loving home but not being able to be legally connected to the family that raised me, created a great deal of angst in my life. 

“This change is really encouraging, and I applaud the ACT Government for the direction they have taken.” 

The legislation considers the need to preserve a child’s cultural inheritance, personal identity and sense of belonging, which is critical in supporting their present reality and helping them in their journey moving forward. 

Renee Carter spoke about the need for children to have an open understanding about all elements of adoption and to maintain links to their cultural identity, “Open Adoption is not only about maintaining a link and open communication with everyone in a child’s family but also keeping children connected to their community and heritage. Having strong connections with all these aspects are such important considerations regarding the best interest of each child.” 

“We look forward to the future in the ACT and seeing these changes enacted on the 1st of September. These changes will make a clear difference to children in need of permanent care arrangements and the families that support them,” remarked Carter. 

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